Twelve students from Falmouth Academy presented at the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair held virtually this year on April 28 through May 5, and eight were awarded prizes. Two students won first-place: Sarah Thieler ’22 for her analysis of the “Distribution of Deep-Sea Red Crabs in Gilbert Canyon” and Gus McGuire ’24 for the study of the “Efficiency of Stepped and Non-Stepped Planing Hulls.” Piper Augat ’22 won second-place for her study of the “Effect of Sunscreen on the Marine Microalga, Isochrysis galbana.” Three students won third-place awards: Hannah Brazil ’22 for the study of “Environmental Drivers of Methane Flux from an Abandoned Cranberry Bog;” Zach Crampton ’22 for “Studying the Presence of Microplastics in Cape Cod Oysters;” and Natalie Pil ’24 for her project, “Are Moths More Attracted to Certain Color LEDs?” Honorable Mentions went to Adele Francis’ 24 for her project, “What Type of Acid Causes the Most Bone Damage?” and Ben Gulmann ’23 for the study of “Effects of a Recently Created Footpath on the Profile of a Dune.”
”I can’t believe I won,” said first-prize-winner junior Sarah Thieler who explained that her project this year wasn’t a traditional “experiment and result” project but rather part of an ongoing scientific exploration of a deep-sea crab species in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument. “I loved learning fundamental data analysis methods and how to conduct research working on something with societal relevance, but I didn’t think this was traditional science-fair material.” Thieler worked virtually with Dr. Tim Shank of WHOI, a biologist who specializes in deep-sea ecology. Dr. Shank supplied Thieler with image catalogs of Gilbert Canyon and she went through 14,000 images to identify the habitat and depth-distribution of deep-sea red crabs within the canyon. The national monument was created in 2016 to protect it from commercial use and preserve it for scientific research. In June 2020, the canyon was opened to commercial fishing, including the red crab. Thieler is now working with Dr. Shank and Dr. Andrew Solow, a statistician emeritus at WHOI, to publish a manuscript about the statistical relevance of her project.
Gus McGuire, a freshman at Falmouth Academy, chose to do a hydrodynamic design project looking at the efficiency of stepped versus non-stepped planing hulls in boat design, which earned him first place at the state level. Working with Falmouth Academy’s Director of Technology Martha Borden, McGuire chose a design from a CAD file database then printed it on the school’s 3D printer to create a 6” model which he tested in local waters. Industry standards suggest that a stepped design is more efficient because it leads to greater speed with less drag, which was McGuire’s hypothesis. Surprisingly this was not what he found. Undeterred, McGuire hopes to continue his research in a closed environment with a larger model which will allow for higher speeds and greater precision. “I like doing the science fair every year,” said McGuire. “There is a baseline of what you have to do and what you’re taught in science class, but then you can go beyond that and learn a lot more.”
Research is one of the cornerstones of a Falmouth Academy education and scientific research requires creativity, precision, skill, patience, and organization. The annual Falmouth Academy Science and Engineering Fair, now in its 34th year, showcases research projects from every student in grades 7-11, and electively in grade 12. Many Falmouth Academy students have been mentored by scientists from local institutions (WHOI, MBL, McLane Laboratories) as they have pursued more specialized and original research for their projects. As the culminating event in their extended inquiry, students present the results of their projects to multiple scientist judges, who question them about their methodology, results, and conclusions. After the results are tabulated, an awards ceremony recognizes top prizewinners who advance to the Regional Science Fair, and often to the State Science Fair at MIT and beyond.